Milkwood – the water design

aerial shot of kirwin

Aerial photo of Kirwin, with Milkwood top left-ish. Taken in about 2002, we think.

Standing on a bare hilltop, with the creek below and a small creekflat to the left, it all seemed so easy when we first got here… all we had to do was figure out where to put some structures, avoid the big trees, and build a bridge over the creek to get in. Grow something on the creekflat, put in a vegie garden, and get water from the sky… and the rest of it all, all those complex ideas and fiddly bits, could just wait till we were nicely set up.

aerial photo of milkwood
Close-up pf Milkwood – looking pretty dry…

However, the more we sat and looked, and the more we thought about it, we realised that establishing a well-functioning Permaculture system was going to take a bit of planning. Rushing in putting down a driveway, and putting up a studio, wasn’t an option. So, we went back to the basics of Permaculture design: Water. Access. Structure. In that order. Hard to stick to, when it gets down to -17 here in winter… but we’re still here, now on the sunny-side of that first winter, and we’re now ready to implement our Permaculture design for Milkwood.

Permaculture Design - Milkwood

Milkwood – basic hydrology design

I know the above design may look fairly un-interesting at first glance – but I assure you it is TREMENDOUSLY EXCITING and, in addition, quite a damn fine Permaculture design, as far as designs go. The blue bits are dams, the dark-brown lines are swales, and the yellow thing is the studio, with the kitchen garden next to it (the little green bit). The lighter brown lines are the access roads, to enable us to get vehicles everywhere that we need to during system establishment, and the greeny-blue line is the existing creek.

The swales are the thing we are most excited about. Without going into a lengthy explanation, swales are water-harvesting elements (they look like long ditches), made exactly on-contour within the landscape. Basically, everything uphill from the swale (in terms of rain + nutrient run-off) flows downhill into the swale. At this point, the water is captured, and ends up sitting in the swale, rather than rushing off downhill to the creek. The swale then fills up along its entire length, until the overflow pours into the dam that is attached to it at some point.

If you have a series of these systems, you end up with long canals of water in the landscape, everytime you get a big rain. The water quickly soaks into the downhill side of the swale, making the downhill side of the swale a *great* place to grow trees. And your dams fill up. And your trees grow. And the whole landscape has heaps more water in it, not just on it – you want to store water IN not ON the landscape if you possibly can. Which makes the creeks flow for longer. Which nudges everything towards a more stable ecosystem. Which is not just good, but great. It benefits us, our food production, the wallabies and the water table. Hurrah.

Permaculture Design of Milkwood with aerial photo

Milkwood – design with Aerial photo underlay…

So that’s it. Three dams (plus the one at bottom left, which is on next-door’s land, but will feed our system), three long swales. Some access, and a studio-site. Which just happens to be right next to the middle dam. Which will provide thermal mass and temperature stabilization (not to mention reflected light in winter). And which will also mean that we can jump off the front deck of the studio into the water. To swim with the fishes. And the ducks, and the yabbies, and the frogs, and the turtles….

Now all we have to do is… do it.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Water and me. And you. « Milkwood on August 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    [...] we prioritized water-harvesting earthworks over building our home when implementing our initial water design for Milkwood. And now, as we’re building our cottage, we have multiple dams and swales that feed and water [...]

  2. By Re-setting the spillways « Milkwood on September 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    [...] easier time than we did at Milkwood when constructing the water harvesting earthworks we’d designed. Most landscapes consist mostly of topsoil and subsoil, at least for the first meter or so. But not [...]

  3. [...] One of the swales. [...]

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